In the course of time Cain brought to the Lord an offering of the fruit of the ground, and Abel also brought of the firstborn of his flock and of their fat portions. And the Lord had regard for Abel and his offering, but for Cain and his offering he had no regard… –Genesis 4:3-4a
We see in this chapter of Scripture the two sons of Adam bring before the Lord their offering. It’s apparent at this time that certain aspects of the Levitical laws were already established at least foundationally. God taught Adam and His lineage that they ought to bring a sacrifice to the Lord to make atonement for sin. The sacrificial system in this text, however, was only a shadow of the coming sacrifice that Christ would make with His own body on behalf of His people.
Abel, the faithful son, brought God the sacrifice He commanded, that is, a sacrifice of a sheep or goat. Cain brought a sacrifice of grain. God was pleased with Abel’s sacrifice But Cain’s He rejected. God judged Abel’s sacrifice worthy and Cain’s unworthy by the standard of His own holiness and commands.
It is a popular idea today that we shouldn’t pass judgment on those who worship God in an unbiblical manner, either with doctrine or with practice–that we should not judge people because all that matters is the sincerity with which they worship. Professing Christians will point out that you cannot judge a person’s heart.
Let me ask this question: if we cannot judge someone’s heart, then are we to just assume that they are sincere in their worship? Are we commanded by Scripture to simply think the best about everyone? It is largely assumed that if someone just says, “Praise Jesus!” really loudly then we just overlook whatever other unorthodox doctrines to which they may hold or blasphemies they may practice.
All the while, it is true that we do not know the hearts of men, there are indications of where a man’s heart may be:
Either make the tree good and its fruit good, or make the tree bad and its fruit bad, for the tree is known by its fruit. You brood of vipers! How can you speak good, when you are evil? For out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks The good person out of his good treasure brings forth good, and the evil person out of his evil treasure brings forth evil. –Matthew 12: 33-35
What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can that faith save him?…But someone will say, “You have faith and I have works.” Show me your faith apart from your works, and I will show you my faith by my works..” —James 2:14,18
It is dangerous and unwise to simply assume that people always have good intentions. We should not tolerate professing Christians adapting improper worship practices such as ecstatic utterances or freaking out over “glory clouds” at Bethel church. When Pastors preach decisionism–that you just need to pray a prayer and walk down an aisle to be saved–we should be filled with righteous indignation. As Christians, we can look to God’s Word and compare someone’s life practices and ministry to the standard of that Word. If someone is acting counter to that, whether they are sincere or not, it does not matter that person needs to be corrected. If they reject correction, once again, the sincerity of their heart does not matter, they need to be rebuked.
I think it should also be noted that improper worship is often a sign of a heart that is far from God. 1 John 3:21 says that Cains was of the devil and his works were evil before he ever killed his brother. Had Abel been discerning maybe he would have seen the evil heart by his false religion. In God’s eyes, sincerely worshiping Him in an idolatrous manner is worthless. It is blasphemy.
Did not Uzzah have good intentions when he held out his hand to steady the ark? How did God repay him? Did God accept the sincerity of Uzzah’s heart? No, God killed him and justly so for Uzzah broke the commandments of God. When Aaron’s two sons, Nadab and Abihu offered up strange fire did God say, “Perhaps they just have a misunderstanding?” Nope, once again God killed them for their strange fire and improper worship. Rather He said, “‘Among those who are near me I will be sanctified, and before all the people I will be glorified,” (Lev 10:3b).
This out to warn us to have our doctrines in order and to keep the practices of the church in line with what is biblical. We should be careful of a critical heart, but we also should disdain “every false way…”)Psalm 119:104.
Now I know what you may be asking, “does not God also disdain proper ecclesiology when the participants are dead and lifeless without joy?” The answer would be “yes,” and I could write an entire article on that. However, I often find it just simply assumed that if there is proper ecclesiology and sound doctrine is exposited from the pulpit and church ordinances are performed in proper order, then that church must be filled with lifeless people. It’s indirectly asserted that the only way to have passion about God is to be theologically stupid.
Nothing could be further from the truth. I once watched Voddie Baucham, a straight-shooting 1689 Baptist in whom I can find no major theological error, cry tears as He preached the supremacy of Christ. Paul Washer, a man who can truly be said to be a man after God’s own heart, would rebuke any person who did not hold sound doctrine or biblical practice in the highest regard. The Puritans were men of godly passion and utmost discipline of doctrine and church life.
Let me exhort you to judge with righteous judgment. Do not judge subjectively and give free passes to people you may like. Do give others a pass because they are like you. Examine yourself and others by the Word of God. Have a high standard of worship, doctrine, and godliness. Have a standard as high as Scripture and do not settle for anything less. Exhort your brothers and sisters to obey and revere the commandments of God. If someone is determined to undermine the commandments of God, rebuke them. If necessary, shun them and have no fellowship with them.